The Importance of Curiosity

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

“Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.” Vladimir Nabokov

I seem to have been reading a lot of books recently on the topic of questions (perhaps inspired by a good friend), and so I was curious to read Curious by Ian Leslie, all about the importance of curiosity in human life and its place in learning, business and innovation. ¬†Coming off the back of reading A More Beautiful Question (read more here), Ian Leslie arguably suffers from a lack of more practical argument and application to the reality of business, but still offers up some nuggets of insight into the importance of curiosity in the success of humans. After all, curiosity is linked to the most fundamental animal behaviour (called ‘seeking by Jaak Panksepp) and the need to explore the world.

One striking fact that Ian Leslie quotes in the introduction to Curious is the impact of curious behaviours on ageing. and research that shows that people who make a lifelong habit of reading and writing show mental decline in old age that is at least one third slower than those who don’t. In other words, curiosity helps you to cheat old age. That’s reassuring news to an ageing blogger!

Latest research by George Loewenstein (well known in behavioural economics circles) indicates that curiosity is all about information gaps, when there is a gap between what we already know and what we would like to know. Information gaps inevitably lead to questions (and sometimes beautiful questions),  Although this description of curiosity seems superficially simple, it is actually very profound. His definition shares much in common with Greek and Roman views of curiosity, which were divorced from the need for practical necessity and focused purely on the need for knowledge and answers for their own power of storytelling works in much the same way.

Ian Leslie discusses the importance of diversity of knowledge (and therefore curious questions) in developing successful ideas. He references Isaah Berlin’s concept of the hedgehog and the fox (deep knowledge of one thing versus lighter knowledge of many things) to formulate the foxhog as an ideal version of the curious person, with deep knowledge of one topic and the ability to link to other knowledge across a wide range of domains (linking to the concept of T-shaped thinking championed by TapestryWorks and as we have written before).

Importantly, Ian Leslie discussed the importance and value of the “Why?” question (read more about this in our review of A More Beautiful Question). In a discussion of Jonathan Powell’s work on negotiating in very difficult political situations, he shows how asking “Why?” and uncovering the motivations behind the “What?” demands of different parties can really help illuminate underlying issues and the means to resolve those issues. In research and innovation, asking repeated “Why” questions has long been seen as a valuable tool to uncover the real reasons behind human behaviours and therefore the underlying triggers and barriers to behaviour change.

I enjoyed reading Curious, and it is great background reading on the importance of asking questions. However, I would recommend reading A More Beautiful Question first and then diving into this book if you want to know more about the power of curiosity and its role in our lives.


Curious: The desire to know & why your future depends on it by Ian Leslie

A More Beautiful Question: The power of enquiry to spark breakthrough ideas by Warren Berger

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